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Chapter 2 A Merry Christmas

  Jo was the first to wake in the grey dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when a little sock fell down because it was so crammed with goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise, and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guide-book for any pilgrim going the long journey. She woke Meg with a `Merry Christmas', and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared with the same picture inside, and a few words written their mother, which made their one present very precious their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke, to rummage a find their little books also - one, dove-coloured, the other blue; and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

  In spite of her small vanities, Margaret had a sweet a pious nature, which unconsciously influenced her sister especially Jo, who loved her very tenderly, and obeyed her because her advice was so gently given.

  `Girls,' said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, `Mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once. We used to be faithful about it; but since Father went away, and all this war trouble unsettled us, we have neglected many things. You can do as you please; but I shall keep my book on the table here, and read a little every morning as soon as I wake for I know it will do me good, and help me through the day.'

  Then she opened her new book and began to read. Jo put her arm round her, and, leaning cheek to cheek, read also with the quiet expression so seldom seen on her restless face.

  `How good Meg is! Come, Amy, let's do as they do. I'll help you with the hard words, and they'll explain things if we don't understand,' whispered Beth, very much impressed by the pretty books and her sisters' example. `I'm glad mine is blue,' said Amy; and then the rooms were very still while the pages were softly turned, and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.

  `Where is Mother?' asked Meg, as she and Jo ran down to thank her for their gifts, half an hour later. `Goodness only knows. Some poor creeter come a-beggin', and your ma went straight off to see what was needed. There never was such a woman for givin' away vittles and drink, clothes, and firin',' replied Hannah, who had lived with the family since Meg was born, and was considered by them all more as a friend than a servant.

  `She will be back soon, I think; so fry your cake, and have everything ready,' said Meg, looking over the presents which were collected in a basket and kept under the sofa, ready to be produced at the proper time. `Why, where is Amy's bottle of cologne?' she added, as the little flask did not appear. `She took it out a minute ago, and went off wit it to put a ribbon on it, or some such notion,' replied Jo dancing about the room to take the first stiffness off the new army-slippers.

  `How nice my handkerchiefs look, don't they! Hannah washed and ironed them for me, and I marked them a myself,' said Beth, looking proudly at the somewhat uneven letters which had cost her such labour.

  `Bless the child! she's gone and put "Mother" on these instead of "M. March". How funny!' cried Jo, taking up one.

  `Isn't it right? I thought it was better to do it so, because Meg's initials are `M. M.', and I don't want anyone to use these but Marmee,' said Beth, looking troubled.

  `It's all right, dear, and a very pretty idea - quite sensible, too, for no one can ever mistake them now. It will please her very much, I know,' said Meg, with a frown for Jo and a smile for Beth.

  `There's Mother. Hide the basket, quick!' cried Jo, as door slammed, and steps sounded in the hall.

  Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters all waiting for her.

  `Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?' asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak that lazy Amy had been out so early.

  `Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know till the time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a big one, and I gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying not to be selfish any more.'

  As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced the cheap one; and looked so earnest and humble her little effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on spot, and Jo pronounced her in `a trump', while Beth ran to the window and picked her finest rose to ornament the stately bottle.

  `You see, I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the minute I was up; and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomest now.'

  Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa, and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.

  `Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books; we read some, and mean to, every day,' they cried, in chorus.

  `Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?'

  They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously:

  `I'm so glad you came before we began!'

  `May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?' said Beth, eagerly.

  `I shall take the cream and the muffins,' added Amy, heroically, giving up the articles she most liked.

  Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one big plate.

  `I thought you'd do it,' said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. `You shall all go, and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinner-time.'

  They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was early, and they went through back streets, few people saw them, and no one laughed at the queer party.

  A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bed-clothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.

  How the big eyes stared and blue lips smiled as the girl went in!

  `Ach, mein Gott! it is good angels come to us!' said in poor woman, crying for joy.

  `Funny angels in hoods and mittens,' said Jo and set them laughing.

  In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the broken panes with old hats an her own cloak. Mrs. March gave the mother tea and gruel and comforted her with promises of help, while she dressed the little baby as tenderly as if it had been her own. The girls, meantime, spread the table, set the children round the fire, and fed them like so many hungry birds - laughing, talking, and trying to understand the funny broken English.

  `Das ist gut!'

  `Die Engelkinder!' cried the poor things, as they ate, and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze.

  The girls had never been called angel children before and thought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered a `Sancho' ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of it; and when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think they were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.

  `That's loving our neighbour better than ourselves, and I like it,' said Meg, as they set out their presents, while their mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the poor Hummels.

  Not a very splendid show, but there was a great deal of love done up in the few little bundles; and the tall vase red roses, white chrysanthemums, and trailing vines, which stood in the middle, gave quite an elegant air to the table.

  `She's coming! Strike up, Beth! Open the door, Amy! Three cheers for Marmee!' cried Jo, prancing about, while Meg went to conduct Mother to the seat of honour.

  Beth played her gayest march, Amy threw open the door and Meg enacted escort with great dignity. Mrs. March was both surprised and touched; and smiled with her eyes full a she examined her presents, and read the little notes which accompanied them. The slippers went on at once, a new handkerchief was slipped into her pocket, well scented with Amy's cologne, the rose was fastened in her bosom, and the nice gloves were pronounced a `perfect fit'.

  There was a good deal of laughing and kissing and explaining, in the simple, loving fashion which makes these home festivals so pleasant at the time, so sweet to remember long afterwards, and then all fell to work.

  The morning charities and ceremonies took so much time that the rest of the day was devoted to preparations for the evening festivities.

  Not rich enough to afford any great outlay for private performances, the girls put their wits to work, and necessity - being the mother of invention - made whatever they needed. Very clever were some of their productions - paste board guitars, antique lamps made of old-fashioned butter boats covered with silver paper, gorgeous robes of old cotton glittering with tin spangle from a pickle factory, and armour covered with the same useful diamond-shaped bits, left ii the sheets when the lids of tin preserve-pots were cut out. The furniture was used to being turned topsy-turvy, and the big chamber was the scene of many innocent revels.

  No gentlemen were admitted; so Jo played male parts to her heart's content, and took immense satisfaction in a pair of russet-leather boots given her by a friend. These boots, an old foil, and a slashed doublet once used by an artist for some picture, were Jo's chief treasures, and appeared on all occasions. The smallness of the company made it necessary for the two principal actors to take several parts apiece; ant they certainly deserved some credit for the hard work the did in learning three or four different parts, whisking in ant out of various costumes, and managing the stage besides. It was excellent drill for their memories, a harmless amusement, and employed many hours which otherwise would have been idle, lonely, or spent in less profitable society.

  On Christmas night, a dozen girls piled on to the bed which was the dress-circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz curtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was a good deal of rustling and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp-smoke, and an occasional giggles from Amy, who was apt to get hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bell sounded, the curtains flew apart, and the Operatic Tragedy began.

  `A gloomy wood', according to the one play-bill, we represented by a few shrubs in pots, green baize on the floor and a cave in the distance. This cave was made with clothes-horse for a roof, bureaus for walls; and in it was small furnace in full blast, with a black spot on it, and a old witch bending over it. The stage was dark, and the glow of the furnace had a fine effect, especially as real steam issued from the kettle when the witch took off the cover. A moment was allowed for the first thrill to subside; the: Hugo, the villain, stalked in with a clanking sword at hi side, a slouched hat, black beard, mysterious cloak, and the boots. After pacing to and fro in much agitation, he struck his forehead, and burst out in a wild strain, singing of his hatred to Roderigo, his love for Zara, and his pleasing resolution to kill the one and win the other. The gruff tones of Hugo's voice, with an occasional shout when his feeling overcame him, were very impressive, and the audience applauded the moment he paused for breath. Bowing with the air of one accustomed to public praise, he stole to the cavern and ordered Hagar to come forth with a commanding `What ho, minion! I need thee!'

  Out came Meg, with grey horse-hair hanging about her face, a red and black robe, a staff, and cabbalistic signs upon her cloak. Hugo demanded a potion to make Zara adore him, and one to destroy Roderigo. Hagar, in a fine dramatic melody, promised both, and proceeded to call up the spirit who would bring the love philtre:

  `Hither, hither, from my home,

  Airy sprite, I bid thee come!

  Born of roses, fed on dew,

  Charms and potions canst thou brew?

  Bring me here, with elfin speed,

  The fragrant philtre which I need;

  Make it sweet and swift and strong,

  Spirit, answer now my song!'

  A soft strain of music sounded, and then at the back of the cave appeared a little figure in cloudy white, with glittering wings, golden hair, and a garland of roses on its head. Waving a wand, it sang:

  `Hither I come,

  From my airy home,

  Afar in the silver moon.

  Take this magic spell, And use it well,

  Or its power will vanish soon!'

  And, dropping a small, gilded bottle at the witch's feet, the spirit vanished. Another chant from Hagar produced an other apparition - not a lovely one; for, with a bang, as ugly black imp appeared, and, having croaked a reply tossed a dark bottle at Hugo, and disappeared with a mocking laugh. Having warbled his thanks and put the potions is his boots, Hugo departed; and Hagar informed the audience that, as he had killed a few of her friends in times past, she has cursed him, and intends to thwart his plans, and be revenged on him. Then the curtain fell, and the audience reposed and ate candy while discussing the merits of the play.

  A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again; but when it bme evident what a masterpiece of stage-carpentering had been got ups no one murmured at the delay. It was truly superb! A tower rose to the ceiling half-way up appeared a window, with a lamp burning at it and behind the white curtain appeared Zara in a lovely blue and silver dress, waiting for Roderigo. He came in gorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut love-locks, guitar, and the boots, of course. Kneeling at the foot of the tower, he sang a serenade in melting tones. Zara replied, and, after a musical dialogue, consented to fly. Then came the grand effect of the play. Roderigo produced a rope ladder, with five steps to it, threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend. Timidly she crept from her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder, and was about to leap gracefully down, when, in Alas! alas for Zara!' she forgot her train - it caught in the window, the tower tottered, leant forward, fell with a crash, and buried the unhappy lovers in the ruins!

  A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly from the wreck, and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, `I told you so! I told you so!' With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire, rushed in, dragged out his daughter, with a hasty aside:

  `Don't laugh! Act as if it was all right!' - and, ordering Roderigo up, banished him from the kingdom with wrath and scorn. Though decidedly shaken by the fall of the tower upon him, Roderigo defied the old gentleman, and refused to stir. This dauntless example fired Zara: she also defied her sire, and he ordered them both to the deepest dungeons of the castle. A stout little retainer came in with chains, and led them away, looking very much frightened, and evidently forgetting the speech he ought to have made.

  Act third was the castle hall; and here Hagar appeared, having come to free the lovers and finish Hugo. She hears him coming, and hides; sees him put the potions into two cups of wine, and bid the timid little servant in Bear them to the captives in their cells, and tell them I shall come anon.' The servant takes Hugo aside to tell him something, an Hagar changes the cups for two others which are harmless Ferdinando, the `minion', carries them away, and Hagar puts back the cup which holds the poison meant for Roderigo. Hugo, getting thirsty after a long warble, drinks it, loses his wits, and, after a good deal of clutching and stamping, falls flat and dies; while Hagar informs him what she has done in a song of exquisite power and melody.

  This was a truly thrilling scene, though some person might have thought that the sudden tumbling down of quantity of long hair rather marred the effect of the villain death. He was called before the curtain, and with great propriety appeared, leading Hagar, whose singing was considered more wonderful than all the rest of the performance put together.

  Act fourth displayed the despairing Roderigo on the point of stabbing himself, because he has been told that Zara has deserted him. Just as the dagger is at his heart, a lovely son is sung under his window, informing him that Zara is true, but in danger, and he can save her, if he will. A key thrown in, which unlocks the door, and in a spasm of rapture he tears off his chains, and rushes away to find an rescue his lady-love.

  Act fifth opened with a stormy scene between Zara and Don Pedro. He wishes her to go into a convent, but she won't hear of it; and, after a touching appeal, is about to fain when Roderigo dashes in and demands her hand. Don Pedro refuses, because he is not rich. They shout and gesticulate tremendously, but cannot agree, and Roderigo about to bear away the exhausted Zara, when the timid servant enters with a letter and a bag from Hagar, who ha mysteriously disappeared. The letter informs the party that she bequeaths untold wealth to the young pair, and an awful doom to Don Pedro, if he doesn't make them happy. The bag is opened, and several quarts of tin money shower down upon the stage, till it is quite glorified with the glitter. This entirely softens the in `stern sire': he consents without a murmur, all join in a joyful chorus, and the curtain falls upon the lovers kneeling to receive Don Pedro's blessing in attitudes of the most romantic grace.

  Tumultuous applause followed, but received an unexpected check; for the cot-bed, on which the `dress-circle' was built, suddenly shut up, and extinguished the enthusiastic audience. Roderigo and Don Pedro flew to the rescue and all were taken out unhurt, though many were speechless with laughter. The excitement had hardly subsided, when Hannah appeared, with `Mrs. March's compliments, and would the ladies walk down to supper'.

  This was a surprise, even to the actors; and, when they saw the table, they looked at one another in rapturous amazement. It was like Marmee to get up a little treat for them; but anything so fine as this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There was ice-cream - actually two dishes of it, pink and white - and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons, and, in the middle of the table, four great bouquets of hot-house flowers.

  It quite took their breath away; and they stared first at the table and then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed it immensely.

  `Is it fairies?' asked Amy.

  `It's Santa Claus,' said Beth.

  `Mother did it'; and Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite her grey beard and white eyebrows.

  `Aunt March had a good fit, and sent the supper,' cried Jo, with a sudden inspiration.

  `All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it,' replied Mr March.

  `The Laurence boy's grandfather! What in the world put such a thing into his head? We don't know him!' exclaimed Meg.

  `Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party. He is an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my father, years ago; and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying he hoped I would allow him to express his friendly feeling towards my children by sending them few trifles in honour of the day. I could not refuse; and you have a little feast at night to make up for the bread-and-milk breakfast.'

  `That boy put it into his head, I know he did! He's capital fellow, and I wish we could get acquainted. He loon as if he'd like to know us; but he's bashful, and Meg is prim she won't let me speak to him when we pass,' said Jo as the plates went round, and the ice began to melt out sight, with `Ohs!' and `Ahs!' of satisfaction.

  `You mean the people who live in the big house net door, don't you?' asked one of the girls. `My mother knows old Mr. Laurence; but says he's very proud, and doesn't like to mix with his neighbours. He keeps his grandson shut up, when he isn't riding or walking with his tutor, and make him study very hard. We invited him to our party, but he didn't come. Mother says he's very nice, though he never speaks to us girls.'

  `Our cat ran away once, and he brought her back, and we talked over the fence, and were getting on capitally - all about cricket, and so on - when he saw Meg coming, and walked off. I mean to know him some day; for he needs fun, I'm sure he does,' said Jo decidedly.

  `I like his manners, and he looks like a little gentleman; so I've no objection to your knowing him, if a Proper opportunity comes. He brought the flowers himself; and I should have asked him in, if I had been sure what was going on upstairs. He looked so wistful as he went away, hearing the frolic, and evidently having none of his own.'

  `It's a mercy you didn't, Mother!' laughed Jo, looking at her boots. `But we'll have another play, some time, that he can see. Perhaps he'll help act; wouldn't that be jolly?'

  `I never had such a fined bouquet before! How pretty it is!' And Meg examined her flowers with great interest.

  `They are lovely. But Beth's roses are sweeter to me,' said Mrs. March, smelling the half-dead posy in her belt.

  Beth nestled up to her, and whispered softly, `I wish I could send my bunch to Father. I'm afraid he isn't having such a merry Christmas as we are.'


圣诞节一早,天刚蒙蒙亮,乔便第一个醒来。她看到壁炉边没有挂着袜子,一时深感失望。多年前,她的小袜子因为糖果塞得太满而掉落地上,她也曾这样失望过。稍后她想起母亲的诺言,便悄悄把手伸到枕头下面,果然摸出一本菲红色封面的书。她十分熟悉这本书,因为它记载的是历史上最优秀的人物的经典故事。乔觉得这正是一切踏上漫长征途的朝圣者所需要的指导书。她一声"圣诞快乐“把梅格叫醒,叫她看看枕头下面有什么。梅格掏出一本绿色封面、带有相同插图的书,妈妈在上面题了词,使这件礼物倍添珍贵。不一会,贝思和艾美也醒来了,翻寻到各自的小书--一本乳白色,另一本蓝色 -四姐妹于是坐着边看边讨论,不觉东方已泛起红霞,新的一天又告开始。



















“圣诞快乐,小姑娘们!真高兴你们马上就开始学习,可要坚持下去埃不过坐下之前我想说几句话。离这儿不远的地方,躺着一个可怜的妇人和一个刚生下来的婴儿。六个孩子为了不被冻僵挤在一张床上,因为他们没有火取暖。那里没有吃的,最大的孩子来告诉我他们又冷又饿。姑娘们,你们愿意把早餐送给他们做圣诞礼物吗?”她们刚才等了差不多一个小时,现在正饿得慌,有一阵子大家都默不作声- 就那么一阵子,只听乔冲口而出道:“我真高兴,早餐还没开始呢!”“我帮着把东西拿给那些可怜的孩子好吗?”贝思热切地问道。

















早上的慈善活动和庆典花了不少时间,余下的时间便用来准备晚上的欢庆活动。由于年龄太小,不宜经常上戏院,又因为经济拮据,支付不起业余表演的大笔费用,姑娘们于是充分发挥才智--需要是发明之母 -需要什么,她们便做什么。她们的创造品有些还挺见心机-用纸板做的吉它,用旧式牛油瓶裹上锡纸做成的古灯,用旧棉布做的鲜艳夺目的长袍,面上亮晶晶地镶着从一家腌菜厂拿来的小锡片,还有镶有同样的钻石形小锡片的盔甲,这些被派上用场的小锡片是腌菜厂做罐头剩下的边角料。屋子里的家具常常被弄得乱七八糟,大房间就是舞台,姑娘们在台上天真无邪地尽兴表演。


圣诞之夜,十二个女孩子挤在花楼 -一张床— 的上头,坐在黄蓝二色混合的磨光印花帘幕前面,翘首以盼,焦急地等着看戏。幕后灯光朦胧,不时传来沙沙的响声和悄悄的话语声,偶尔还传来容易激动的艾美在兴奋之中发出的咯咯笑声。不一会铃声响起,帘幕拉开,《歌剧式的悲剧》开始了。




















第五幕开场时,莎拉和唐·佩得罗正闹得不可开交。唐·佩得罗要她进修道院,她坚决不从,并伤心欲绝地求他开恩,正要晕倒时,罗德力戈闯入并向她求婚。唐· 佩德罗不答应,因为他没有钱。两人大吵大闹一番,依然互不相让。罗德力戈正要把筋疲力尽的莎拉背走,羞怯的小侍从拿着黑格交给她的一封信和一个布袋走进来,黑格此时已神秘地消失。


接下来响起了热烈的掌声,正当此时,那座用作花楼的帆布床突然折拢,把热情洋溢的观众压倒。罗德力戈和唐·佩德罗飞身前来抢救,众人虽然毫发无损,但全都笑得说不出话来。大家刚刚恢复神态,罕娜进来说:“马奇太太致以祝贺,并请女士们下来用餐。”大家一阵惊喜,连演员亦不例外。看到桌子上摆着的东西,她们高兴得互相对望,同时都感到十分奇怪。妈妈平时也会弄点吃的款待她们,不过自从告别了宽裕的日子以来,这样的好东西连听都没听说过。桌子上摆着雪糕- 而且有两碟,一碟粉红色,一碟白色 还有蛋糕、水果和迷人的法式夹心糖,桌子中间还摆着四束美丽的温室鲜花!









“你们说的是住在隔壁那座大房子里的人吗?”一个姑娘问,”我妈妈认识劳伦斯先生,但说他非常高傲,不喜欢与邻里交往。他把自己的孩子关在家里,只让他跟着家庭教师骑马散步,逼他用功读书。我们曾经邀请他参加我们的晚会,但他没来。妈妈说他相当不错,虽然他从不跟我们女孩子说话。”“一次我家的猫儿不见了,是他送回来的。我们隔着篱笆谈了几句,而且相当投机--谈的都是板球一类的东西 -他看到梅格走过来,就走开了。我终有一天要认识他的,因为他需要乐趣,我肯定他很需要,”乔自信地说道。





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